Thursday, 9 May 2013

Ben Brogan's morning briefing: Clegg creates chaos on childcare..

Good Morning. Yesterday's Queen's Speech gave rise to a much speculation about the state of relations in the Coalition. Was the slimmed down legislative programme an indication of joint-focus on a few key areas or of an inability to agree which prevented a more ambitious schedule? Last night's Newsnight revelation that Nick has told the Tories that he will block government reforms to childcare ratios might be a fair indication. The Government's plan to allow a greater number of children per adult in nurseries was intended to drive down childcare costs. Without it, the budget for the entire childcare programme will need to be reviewed. The Lib Dems can point to the hostility of nurseries and to safety concerns, but it also feels like an attempt to derail Dave's bid to restore his reputation with women, a calculated snub now that the DPM finds Europe in play.
One of the biggest announcements in yesterday's Queen's Speech was implicit: Ukip will have a role to play in domestic policy making. Immigration may have taken the headlines prior to the speech, but it was the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, providing for the supervision of those jailed for less than 12 months when they are released, which has held the focus afterwards. As Chris Grayling writes for us, re-offending rates are atrocious and the taxpayer is getting a rotten return on the costs ofincarceration. But it's also a nod to the traditional constituencies the Tories have long neglected and who are now considering Ukip. As with the Immigration Bill which has upset doctors and landlords who have been appointed part-time boarder guards, it's Westminster controversial, but not likely to get the Tories in trouble with the base. Interestingly, the FT (£) suggests that Ukip had "put out feelers" for Lynton Crosby, whose influence on direction in the Tory camp is becoming clear, before he joined Team Dave. The £350,000 asking price was offputting, apparently.
There's a body of opinion that the Speech was, in Polly Toynbee's words, "a mouse of a programme". As the Independent points out, constitutional reform is dead, the aid pledge gone, and long awaited lobbying reforms absent entirely. The FT's (£) line that "clean-living zeal" had been dropped along with minimum alcohol pricing and plain cigarette packets was also reflected in the commentaries of many who, like James Kirkup, see the sun setting on the Coalition.
But then, the Coalition was never likely to be an idealistic love match. The combination of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems was always going to be judged on the progress of the economy at a time on national crisis - the problem the pair came together to fix. The griping from the footsoldiers in both camps has been with social policy making. Unless both parties can show that the Coalition is yielding economic benefits, they can forget about the loyalty of backbenchers or voters by 2015. In that context, heading back to basics in terms of peripheral legislation and putting the economy first makes sense. As Peter Oborne writes, there's still a determination among both party leaders to see things through:
"A poor Queen’s Speech yesterday and the Coalition might have been doomed. It simply would not have had the ballast to confront the inevitable turbulence over the parliamentary year ahead, which starts with a poisonous negotiation over the next spending review, due to conclude in July. In 12 months’ time, with only a year to go – at the most – before election day, it will be impossible to repeat the trick. Legislation takes ages to take effect – a year to go through Parliament, two years to be implemented, perhaps another decade to bed down genuine and lasting change. Nevertheless, yet again this Coalition Government has defied logic and refused to be brought down by the weight of its internal contradictions. With this brilliant Queen’s Speech, it has bought itself another year."
David Cameron's European journey is being rather hampered by blasts from the past at present. Yesterday there was Charles Moore's revelationthat Margaret Thatcher had come to believe that Britain ought to leave Europe but stayed quiet having been advised that such a view would marginalise her. Today, it's Michael Portillo who does a Lawson in the comment pages of the Times (£). Europe's vision and Britain's are clean different things, he says, if we ever get the opportunity:
"Nigel Lawson says that he would vote in a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union. So would I. But I am much less confident than he is that we will get the opportunity to express our will. A referendum would occur if the Conservatives won a majority at the next election and kept their promise. They didn’t win the last one and it is extremely rare for governing parties to improve their share of the vote, even when their opponents are as weakly led as Labour and the Liberal Democrats are now."
After the not so subtle hints dropped about Ukip's overtures to her, Nadine Dorries was re-admitted to the parliamentary Conservative Party yesterday after almost six months of exile. Amusingly, PoliticsHomenotes that her welcome back party will be hosted by David Davis' office on Monday, a champagne reception with "Whips admitted only if accompanies by an adult," and drinks provided by Andrew Mitchell. You have to hope that Mr Davis' next door neighbour in Portcullis House has time to pop in - I'm sure Sir George Young wouldn't miss it for the world. 
Several of the papers carry a letter to Dave from the former Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Keith Mitchell. Ditch the politicking, and get on the beer and fags like Nigel, Mr Mitchell advises. As the Mail reports, he adds that "you and George [Osborne], in particular, have been portrayed as public school toffs. You have to work out how to be one of us without affectation or silly gimmicks and to speak the language of Joe Public."
Some killer detail on the Cabinet Office power grab in Whitehall from ourSue Cameron - "the bonking machine is in revolt". It's not what you're thinking, Boris is fine, but the letter folding and stuffing machines do not work with the recycled paper which the Cabinet Office now insists that each department must use. That isn't the only reason for discontentment:
"Much of what the Cabinet Office is trying to achieve is well intended, and of course efficiencies and cost savings are highly desirable. Yet the way this is being done seems to be alienating far too many people inside and outside Whitehall. As always the success or failure of any policy depends on how it is done. At present, there seems to be a fatal combination of arrogance, poor people skills and insufficient thought about the changes that may be needed in Whitehall to deliver policies over a wide range of very different areas."
Scottish support for independence is floundering, according to the Times(£). A new Ipsos/MORI poll shows that the yes camp trails the unionists by 28pc among those certain to vote. The Treasury is about to turn the screw further. Their report on an independent Scotland is out in a fortnight's time, and it's likely to suggest that Scotland's higher borrowing costs will mean more expensive mortgages and insurance, and lower value pension funds.
It may soon be the case that it isn't only Dave who finds Bo-Jo taxing. The London Mayor will use a report by the London Finance Commission to demand the right to raise property and tourism taxes, borrow money and build houses, the Guardian reports. Still, a tourist tax would go down better than the proposal from the Local Government Association which, as the Mail reports, would like to end the 25pc council tax discount available to single occupiers. It's a move being pushed by Labour councils, but were it ever adopted, how long before the words "Bridget Jones tax" were being mouthed by every shadow cabinet member?
The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson moved every politicial in the land to their Twitter account to share their sadness with a grateful nation. George Osborne recalled a "spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to canvass his house as a young candidate" while Ed appeared to believe he had died (see Tweets and Twits) and Dave praised his "exceptional achievements". Sir Alex's Labour sympathies are well known, leading theMail note that party sources say it is a "distinct possibility" he will be nominated for a peerage. He'd certainly be at home on the red benches.
Quite understandably, in the words of the Camden New Journal, "Ella Phillips, 29, thought she had suffered concussion when the Labour Party leader’s face suddenly appeared in front of her after she had flipped over her handlebars near the underground station in Kentish Town Road on Thursday." She was, in fact, being rescued by the "suave" figure of Ed Miliband who had been passing by at the time. After carrying her onto the pavement and checking she was alright, he disappeared as silently as he had arrived. Ms Phillips tells the paper that she is very grateful, although even in his finest hour, Ed does not totally escape suspicion: "I half suspected he had deliberately knocked me off my bike just to gallantly help me up again." 

He's not dead you know, Ed:

@Ed_Miliband:"Proud man. Great manager. Staunch Labour Party supporter. Sir Alex Ferguson will never be forgotten."
Telegraph View - The Queen's message? That continuity reigns

Best of the rest

Michael Portillo in The Times (£) - We don't share Europe's vision. So I want out
Martin Kettle in The Guardian - This is the beginning of the end for the Coalition
Alistair Darling in the FT (£) - Economics, niot politics, should dictate the RBS sale
Rod Liddle in The Sun - Ol' Shiny Face won't trust you on Europe

Today: Civil service strike. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union at a number of Government agencies and commissions stage a one-hour strike from 11am in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
09:30 am: Brighton College Education Conference. Former schools minister Lord Adonis speaking at 09:35 and Education Secretary Michael Gove at 10:30. Brighton College, Eastern Road, Brighton.
09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders releases its arrears and repossessions and buy-to-let figures for the first quarter of 2013.
09:30 am: Global investment summit, including speech from David Cameron. Press requested to arrive at 09:30 for 10:00 start. David Cameron will speak at 10:10, Energy Secretary Ed Davey at 11:45, Treasury minister Lord Deighton at 12:05, Boris Johnson at 12:40. At 04:30, George Osborne will chair a panel including Christine Lagarde, managing director, International Monetary Fund; Dr Wolfgang Schduble, federal minister of finance, Germany; and Jim Flaherty, minister of finance, Canada.
12:00 pm: Bank of England decision on interest rates and quantitative easing programme.